While navigating a depleted roster without Cam Thomas and Ben Simmons, the Nets got what they needed from a struggling star in Tuesday night’s 124-104 win over the Magic.
Cam Johnson gave his season-best performance so far with 20 points, shooting 7-for-11 from the field and 3 of 7 from the 3-point line, in addition to five rebounds, two assists and three steals.
It was an output the Nets have been waiting for after the power forward suffered two injuries that resulted in a slower start than desired.
“I think defensively we were solid and sound. That led to offense on the other end. Obviously, [Spencer Dinwiddie] had a great quarter,” Johnson said about the Nets outscoring Orlando 36-18 in the fourth quarter. “Really gave us a big lift. Timely buckets kind of hurts the other team’s confidence. … Played well across the board.”
The majority of Johnson’s offseason prep came in the summer while playing for USA Basketball alongside teammate Mikal Bridges, later suffering a hamstring injury that sidelined him from the Nets’ four preseason games.
He returned in time for the season opener against the Cavaliers only to suffer a left calf contusion on the same leg late in the game.
The 27-year-old Johnson said “something kind of random popped up at the very end of the [Cleveland] game,” but he reassured everyone that he would be “fine.”
But Johnson did not play for seven straight games and has only appeared in four of the Nets’ 11 games. In three of those games, he contributed less than 15 points and against the Celtics and Wizards, Johnson shot a dismal 4 of 13 and 5 of 16 from the field respectively.
Head coach Jacque Vaughn commented on what it was like to see Johnson back to his usual self at Barclays Center.
“Yeah, I remember I said even when guys are like healthy in order to play, that doesn’t mean that they’re 100 percent with the rhythm and timing and the conditioning piece,” Vaughn said. “So I ran him a little longer last [Washington] game just to get a little wind underneath him to hopefully put him in a position where he’s got a little second [or] third wind going forward.
“But to see him and his ability to shoot the basketball, guard multiple positions, Also get downhill, and be disruptive on the defensive end of the floor. So more length for us. Good to see him.”
The 35 minutes played against the Wizards seemed to have helped in Johnson’s 29-minute output on Tuesday, and it may lead to a rhythm.
The Nets will need that and more from Johnson while they carry on without leading scorer Thomas (26.9 points), who suffered an ankle sprain after he stepped on P.J. Tucker’s foot during the Nets’ win over the Clippers on Nov. 8. Simmons is also out, nursing a nerve irritation in his back and will likely be sidelined for at least another week.
Last season, Johnson was one of the Nets’ top scorers after joining Bridges in the trade from Phoenix for Kevin Durant, averaging 16.6 points per game.
Johnson shot 46.8 percent from the field across 25 appearances and in his first playoff stint with the Nets, averaged 18.5 points in the first-round loss to Philadelphia.
The Nets will face the Heat (6-5) on Thursday night before returning to Brooklyn to host the Eastern Conference-leading 76ers (8-2) on Sunday afternoon.